Yesterday we were invited to a Thai style house (built in 1908 by the Royal family and still lived in to this day by a Royal Prince) to sit by the river pavilion and watch the Royal Barge Procession in honour of the King's 80th birthday.
At the trumpeting of the conch shell, chana and mahorathuk drums and then the royal anthem, the 52 Royal Barges with over 2,000 oarsmen began their journey down the Chao Phraya river in a majestic display of colour, culture and opulence. The oarsmen have to keep to in sync with the drums and follow the calls and flag signals of the Master Oarsman at the helm.
The procession was organised to mark His Majesty the King's 80th birthday on Dec 5. However, the King failed to attend as both his Majesty and his sister, her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana, are still being treated at Siriraj Hospital.
Instead his Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn presided over the procession and later presented the Royal Krathin Robes to monks at the Temple of Dawn, marking the end of Buddhist Lent.
The Royal Barge Procession is a part of Thai national heritage, teaching them how merciful the rivers can be and giving them the chance to make merit together for the afterlife.
The Royal Barges are descendants of fleets of boats developed for war in ancient times. In the Ayutthaya period (400 years ago) the fleets were decorated and served kings who wanted to travel by boat, especially for the ritual of presenting offerings to monks. During the rest of the year these elaborately decorated vessels can be seen in the Royal Barge Museum.
As the sun set behind the Temple of Dawn, I couldn't help wondering - have we been hurled into the past?; Kings, Royal barges, chants, traditional clothes, hundreds of oarsmen working in unison, the sound of water rushing along the prow - transcendental!
It is in times like this that I wish I had a real video camera :-)